Column: Stampede still a thrill

This week we celebrate the 89th Williams Lake Stampede.

This week we celebrate the 89th Williams Lake Stampede.

It may not be the oldest in B.C. (Falkland ) nor the biggest (Cloverdale?) but we’re one of the oldest and biggest and what about best? We must be the somethingest.

As the city has grown, many feel the cowtown image is embarrassing, but we have improved from the 1950s when the Stampede was advertised as a “wild west wing ding.” Visitors were invited to “three wild days and nights in the Cariboo.” It certainly wasn’t false billing but the police said the celebrations were already as wild as they cared to handle and they persuaded the stampede committee to delete the “wild.” Stampedes were rowdy in the early 1970s too, and one wag suggested inviting visitors to come to the stampede for a weekend they’d never remember. That didn’t fly either.

In the early days there were some foolhardy events. The Roman Race saw a cowboy riding two horses at the same time, standing, one foot on each horse’s back. The Drunken Ride saw the rider ending up under the horse’s belly, his head and shoulders inches from the ground but one foot still in a stirrup.

The original Mountain Race saw riders coming hell bent down the side of Fox Mountain and crossing what is now Highway 97 to the Stampede Grounds. Oldtimers claimed they tossed their reins and rode the last stretch at breakneck speed with their hands up over their heads.

The modern version is tamer but still has its moments.

Stampede events are based on ranch activities but I have never understood what ranch activity involved riding a bull.

Today’s stampedes with their professional contestants are different from the old days, but the thrills remain. Our stampede has one event, the Ranch Challenge, that sees local working cowboys competing in four events that show their skills and knowledge of the activities required on a modern ranch.

Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.